The 40 greatest Beatles songs ever, ranked

26 March 2021, 14:51

The Beatles
The Beatles. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

No other band in the history of popular music managed to influence and entertain so many people in just a handful of years than the Beatles.

The Fab Four - Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr - changed music and culture forever when they hit the scene in 1962.

In just eight years, they released several iconic albums and timeless songs that continue to bring joy to millions of people around the world.

We've picked the very best songs by the Beatles to make for a perfect Fab Four playlist:

  1. When I'm Sixty-Four

    Although this little ditty from Sgt Pepper is about ageing with your lover, this was actually one of Paul McCartney's first ever songs, written when he was just 14.

    He later said: "I wrote a lot of stuff thinking I was going to end up in the cabaret, not realizing that rock and roll was particularly going to happen. When I was 14 there wasn't much of a clue that it was going to happen."

  2. With a Little Help from My Friends

    This was written by Lennon and McCartney for the Sgt Pepper and given to Ringo Starr to sing.

    It's a rare example of how a cover version became arguably more well known than the original, when Joe Cocker scored a massive number one hit in 1968. Wet Wet Wet also had a number one hit with a cover in the late 1980s.

  3. Magical Mystery Tour

    This was released on the band's Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack album, which was a double EP in Britain but an album in America.

    Read more: The inside story of why The Beatles really broke up

    It was written mainly by Paul McCartney, who later said: "Because those were psychedelic times it had to become a magical mystery tour, a little bit more surreal than the real ones to give us a licence to do it.

    "But it employs all the circus and fairground barkers, "Roll up! Roll up!", which was also a reference to rolling up a joint."

  4. Yellow Submarine

    A children's song written by Lennon and McCartney for Revolver, this catchy tune was sung by Ringo Starr.

    It later inspired the 1968 animated movie of the same name, and was paired as a Double-A side with 'Eleanor Rigby', showing the band's variety of output.

  5. Day Tripper

    Written mainly by John Lennon, this became the band's third Christmas number one, in 1965.

    Lennon later explained: "Day trippers are people who go on a day trip, right? Usually on a ferryboat or something. But [the song] was kind of ... 'you're just a weekend hippie.' Get it?".

  6. A Hard Day's Night

    Written primarily by Lennon, this track featured heavily in the iconic movie of the same name.

    The song's title came from something said by Ringo Starr. The drummer said in 1964: "We went to do a job, and we'd worked all day and we happened to work all night. I came up still thinking it was day I suppose, and I said, 'It's been a hard day...' and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said, '...night!'".

  7. Taxman

    Featured on the Revolver album, this track was written mostly by George Harrison, helping him emerge as a songwriter alongside the main Lennon-McCartney partnership.

    QUIZ: How well do you know the Beatles' song lyrics?

    The song protests against the higher level of tax imposed in the UK by the Labour government of Harold Wilson, which saw the Beatles paying over 90% of their earnings to the Treasury.

  8. I Feel Fine

    Written by John Lennon, this became the Christmas number one in the UK for 1964 (their second of four).

    The track includes one of the earliest uses of guitar feedback in popular music.

  9. Michelle

    This love song written mostly by McCartney came about after he had gone to a party of art students where a student with a goatee and a striped T-shirt was singing a French song.

    He soon wrote a silly copy to entertain his friends that featured French-sounding mumbles instead of real words. The song remained a party piece until 1965, when Lennon suggested he turn it into a proper song for Rubber Soul.

  10. Love Me Do

    Where it all began. This was the Beatles debut single, released in 1962.

    It was first written by McCartney in the late 1950s, before Lennon contributed the bridge and added his harmonica playing.

  11. Tomorrow Never Knows

    For this trippy song, Lennon drew inspiration from his experiences with LSD and from the book The Psychedelic Experience. It used musical elements not usually heard in pop music at the time, including avant-garde composition and electro-acoustic sound edits.

    George Harrison later said: "Basically [the song] is saying what meditation is all about. The goal of meditation is to go beyond (that is, transcend) waking, sleeping and dreaming."

  12. Here, There and Everywhere

    Written by McCartney for Revolver, this love ballad is among his personal favourites of all the songs he has written.

    The romantic song was inspired by 'God Only Knows' by the Beach Boys, after Lennon and McCartney had attended a private listening party for Pet Sounds.

  13. I Am the Walrus

    This out-there track was written for the 1967 Magical Mystery Tour album.

    Lennon wrote the song to confuse listeners who had been applying serious analytical interpretations of the Beatles' lyrics. He was inspired by two LSD trips and Lewis Carroll's 1871 poem 'The Walrus and the Carpenter'.

  14. Help!

    This was the title song for the 1965 and soundtrack album of the same name.

    Written mostly by Lennon, he wrote the lyrics to express his stress after the Beatles' quick rise to fame: "I was fat and depressed and I was crying out for 'Help'".

  15. And I Love Her

    Written predominantly by McCartney, this love song was included on the A Hard Day's Night soundtrack album.

    McCartney later said it was "the first ballad I impressed myself with".

  16. Hello, Goodbye

    Written by Paul McCartney, this song came about via an exercise in word association between McCartney and Alistair Taylor, an assistant of the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein.

    It became the fourth and final Christmas number one for the band, in 1967.

  17. She Loves You

    One of the Beatles' early massive hits, it is the band's best-selling single in the UK.

    Lennon later said: "It was Paul's idea: instead of singing 'I love you' again, we'd have a third party. That kind of little detail is still in his work. He will write a story about someone. I'm more inclined to write about myself."

  18. Paperback Writer

    McCartney based the lyrics for this song on a challenge made to him by his Aunt Lil. He said: "Years ago, my Auntie Lil said to me, 'Why do you always write songs about love all the time? Can't you ever write about a horse or the summit conference or something interesting?'".

    Lyrically, the song is written in the form of a letter from an aspiring author addressed to a publisher.

  19. Ticket to Ride

    Written by John Lennon, the inspiration of the title for this song is unclear, along with its meaning.

    McCartney said the title referred to "a British Railways ticket to the town of Ryde on the Isle of Wight", but Lennon said it described cards showing a clean bill of health carried by Hamburg prostitutes in the 1960s.

  20. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

    Written by George Harrison, this bluesy rock track featured on their White Album.

    The song was meant as a comment on the disharmony within the Beatles after their return from studying Transcendental Meditation in India in 1968. At first, the band were indifferent to the song, leading to Harrison bringing in friend Eric Clapton for the recording.

  21. We Can Work It Out

    Written by both McCartney and Lennon (which was a relative rarity at this part of their career), McCartney wrote the words and music to the verses and the chorus before taking it to Lennon to help finish.

    The initial lyrics "might have been personal", and were probably a reference to his relationship with Jane Asher at the time.

  22. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

    Written mostly by John Lennon for Sgt Pepper, his son Julian inspired this song with a nursery school drawing that he called 'Lucy – in the sky with diamonds'.

    Speculation arose that the first letter of each of the title nouns spelled 'LSD', but Lennon repeatedly denied that he had intended it as a drug song, but was rather inspired by his reading of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland books.

  23. I Want to Hold Your Hand

    This became one of the biggest Beatles singles ever on both sides of the Atlantic and was a good example of how Lennon and McCartney would co-write together at the beginning of the band.

    Lennon later said: "We wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball. Like in 'I Want to Hold Your Hand,' I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher's house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time."

  24. Strawberry Fields Forever

    This track represented a departure from the group's previous singles, and at first divided and confused critics and fans. But it was highly influential on the emerging psychedelic scene.

    John Lennon based the song on his childhood memories of playing in the garden of Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army children's home in Liverpool.

  25. The End

    Aside from the hidden track 'Her Majesty', this was the final song recorded by all the Beatles together. It was the final track on Abbey Road, which was actually the final album recorded by the band, though released before Let It Be.

    Read more: The Beatles' Abbey Road at 50: How was the iconic album cover made?

    The short track features a solo by each four members, which McCartney later said perfectly reflected each otheir styles.

  26. Let It Be

    This was the emotional title track for the Beatles' final album, released in 1970, and was written by McCartney.

    McCartney said he had the idea of the song after he had a dream about his mother during a difficult period recording the White Album. His mother Mary died of cancer in 1956, when he was 14.

    "It was great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing 'Let It Be'."

  27. All You Need is Love

    This song was Britain's contribution to Our World, the very first live global TV link, where the band were filmed performing it at EMI Studios in London in 1967.

    Read more: When Queen, the Beatles and Rod Stewart sang spectacular version of 'All You Need Is Love'

    The programme was broadcast via satellite and seen by over 400 million people in 25 countries. Lennon's lyrics for the song were deliberately simplistic, to allow for the international audience, and perfectly captured the feeling of the Summer of Love.

  28. Penny Lane

    This was released as a double-A side single with 'Strawberry Fields Forever', but was famously kept off the number one spot by Engelbert Humperdinck.

    Read more: These isolated a cappella vocals from the Beatles on 'Yesterday' and 'Penny Lane' are spine-tingling

    The song's lyrics refer to Penny Lane, a street in Liverpool, referencing sights and characters that McCartney remembered from his youth.

  29. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

    This Rubber Soul track was influenced by the lyrics of Bob Dylan, and famously featured a sitar played by George Harrison, marking the first appearance of the Indian string instrument on a Western rock recording.

    Lennon wrote the song about an extramarital affair he had in London, with accounts that it was with either Lennon's close friend and journalist Maureen Cleave or Sonny Freeman.

  30. Get Back

    Featuring American musician Billy Preston on piano, this song was a number one in 1969, before Phil Spector produced a different version for Let It Be a year later.

    The song emerged out of an improvised jam session, with McCartney later saying: "We were sitting in the studio and we made it up out of thin air. We started to write words there and then when we finished it, we recorded it at Apple Studios and made it into a song to roller-coast by."

  31. The Long and Winding Road

    Paul McCartney said he came up with this ballad's title during one of his first visits to his property High Park Farm, in Scotland. The phrase was inspired by the sight of a road "stretching up into the hills" in the remote Highlands.

    Read more: Watch the moment Paul McCartney sings ‘Yesterday’ so tenderly even hysterical Beatles fans fall silent

    Producer Phil Spector's modifications to the song angered McCartney, who later created a stripped back version for 2003's Let It Be... Naked.

  32. Come Together

    The opening track for Abbey Road, this rock song was inspired by a request from Timothy Leary to write a song for his campaign for governor of California against Ronald Reagan, which soon ended when Leary was jailed for possession of marijuana.

    Lennon said: "The thing was created in the studio. It's gobbledygook. Come Together was an expression that Leary had come up with for his attempt at being president. I tried and tried, but I couldn't come up with one. But I came up with this, which would've been no good to him."

  33. Something

    Written by George Harrison for Abbey Road, this is generally considered a love song to Pattie Boyd, Harrison's first wife.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Something'

    Due to the difficulty he faced in getting more than two songs onto each Beatles album, Harrison first offered the song to Joe Cocker. It eventually became one of the Beatles' best-loved recordings, and was even touted as one of the best love songs ever by Frank Sinatra.

  34. Hey Jude

    One of the band's biggest hits, the writing and recording of the single coincided with a difficult period of upheaval in the Beatles.

    The epic ballad evolved from 'Hey Jules', a song McCartney wrote to comfort John Lennon's son, Julian, after Lennon had left his wife for Yoko Ono.

    At over seven minutes long, it's one of the longest records to reach number one in the UK.

  35. Blackbird

    This simple but gorgeous song was written by McCartney for the band's White Album.

    McCartney has said that the lyrics were inspired by hearing the call of a blackbird in Rishikesh, India, as well as the state of race relations in the United States in the 1960s.

  36. Yesterday

    This ballad written and recorded by Paul McCartney is one of the most performed songs of all time, with over 2,200 cover versions.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Yesterday'

    The track is a melancholy ballad about the break-up of a relationship. Essentially a solo song by McCartney, it was vetoed by the band as a single release, though it was eventually brought out in 1976.

  37. A Day in the Life

    The verses of this track were mainly written by John Lennon, with Paul McCartney contributing the song's middle section. It is often regarded as one of the finest and most important works in popular music history.

    Lennon's lyrics were mainly inspired by recent newspaper articles, including a report on the death of Guinness heir Tara Browne. McCartney meanwhile recalls his younger years, including riding the bus, smoking, and going to class.

    After the song's second epic crescendo, the song ends with a sustained chord, played on several keyboards, that sustains for over 40 seconds.

  38. Eleanor Rigby

    Paul McCartney came up with the melody of 'Eleanor Rigby' while experimenting on his piano. It marked a move from poppy sounds of their previous output to more mature and experimental music.

    In the 1980s, the grave of an Eleanor Rigby was 'discovered' in the graveyard of St Peter's Parish Church in Liverpool, and a few yards away from that, another tombstone with the last name 'McKenzie'.

    During their teenage years, McCartney and Lennon spent time sunbathing there, within earshot of where the two had first met at a fete in 1957.

  39. Here Comes the Sun

    George Harrison wrote this summery song in 1969 at the country house of his friend Eric Clapton, where Harrison had chosen to skive off for the day to avoid attending an Apple Corps meeting.

    Read more: Jon Bon Jovi's inauguration performance of Beatles' 'Here Comes The Sun' at actual sunrise gives us chills

    The song's lyrics reflect his relief at the arrival of spring and escaping the band's business affairs.

    By 2019, it was the most streamed Beatles song on Spotify globally, with over 350 million plays.

  40. In My Life

    This emotional track is a reflective look at one's life, and was written by both McCartney and Lennon, though both men disputed each other's contributions later in life.

    Read more: Sean Connery's cover of 'In My Life' by The Beatles is beautiful and very poignant

    Featuring on the Rubber Soul album, Lennon later said that the song was his "first real major piece of work" as it was the first time he wrote personal lyrics about his own life.